Exploit Interactive goes EAST with TACIS. Monika Segbert travels from Luxembourg via Bruxelles and Manchester to Moscow and reports on the TACIS project which aims to create an Information System for the Russian State Library.
The Russian State Library was awarded the Tacis project in 1998 to help it modernise its library processes and services and to open up access to its invaluable collections to national and international audiences.
This National Library of all the former Soviet States, the largest library of Europe and the second largest in the world, holds over 42 million items. It acquires and stores national and foreign publications from the beginning of the book printing until today in 247 living and dead languages. It also contains an outstanding manuscript collection going back to the VIth century. The Library serves first of all the national and international research community, but also fulfils the functions of a public library, welcoming up to 5,000 users and circulating more than 35,000 items daily. It co-operates with libraries and institutions in more than 100 countries through its exchange programme and services about 2,500 borrowers all over the world.
UNESCO was instrumental in helping to draw up a Modernisation Plan in 1994 for this magnificent library. At the core of this plan is the introduction of information technologies into everyday practice. Other important elements of this far-reaching plan were the improvement of collection development and user services, staff training, restoration of buildings and preservation of valuable collections.
Ariane Iljon, then head of DG XIII-E4 Telematics for Libraries and a member of the board of the UNESCO Commission for the Russian State Library, in 1994 commissioned a feasibility study on automating the Russian State Library. This study resulted in a Project Definition Report: "Planning for Automation 1995 - 2000" which provided the basis for the Terms of Reference of the Tacis project TELRUS 9705 "Creating an Information System for the Russian State Library".
The project derives its budget from the Telecommunication Sector of the Tacis programme. Tacis fosters the development of links between EU countries and the States of the former Soviet Union and Mongolia. A key area of Tacis activity is the so-called Know-How transfer, carried out through policy advice, consultancy teams, training, studies, partnerships and also through pilot projects.
The project work plan lists 4 inter-related components:
The project started on 10th December 1998, with a budget of 1 MECU and is due to be completed by June 2000. The British Council in close collaboration with the partners in the Russian State Library leads a group of EU and Russian experts from the National Library of Scotland, Jouve SA France, EDS Germany and EDS-Lanit Moscow, Lund University Library Sweden, IPA (International Procurement Agency) Holland, IPF (Institute of Public Finance) London, Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University and the Russian National Library, St. Petersburg.
By June 2000 the following outcomes will be realised:
At the time of writing the open tender  for the integrated library software has been conducted and the evaluation of the bids has taken place. It was very encouraging to see the lively interest of both Western and Russian ILS suppliers in this project. The technical specifications of the required functionalities of the software were drawn up in many intensive discussions between RSL, local and EU experts, and the procurement expert of the project made sure that the final tender documents and evaluation procedure followed the Tacis rules very strictly. There will be a public announcement as to which supplier has won the tender as soon as the contract with the supplier has been signed.
One of the project's components is to retroconvert 10,000 cards from the 19th Century Catalogue of Russian books. Following an internal workshop on retroconversion, the RSL retroconversion team together with the project expert from Jouve formulated a Request for Proposal to two local suppliers to participate in a test-run, in order to determine quality and cost-value ratio of the two offers. Both suppliers scanned the same 500 cards of this catalogue (with many hand-written additions, fading ink, annotations on verso) and had to deliver MARC records in USMARC format for a certain deadline. This catalogue was chosen as being of special interest to national and international audiences, and was defined a priority in the UNESCO modernisation plan. The firm ProSoft, a Russian-German joint venture was chosen as a result of the test run. Subsequently ProSoft has concluded an agreement with the RSL to convert the whole of this catalogue - 600,000 records in total - as part of a joint business venture - this is a very positive result of the project activities, as the initial OPAC database will be enhanced by many more MARC records of this catalogue than the project budget could have afforded.
The conversion of existing machine readable cataloguing files will include the Current Russian Books acquired since May 1998, Current Foreign Books since January 1999, and the database of Dissertations and dissertation abstracts. The conversion has been tested with the results of the project USEMARCON, one of the research projects of DGXIII under its FP 3 Libraries Programme, and a time-table for the full conversion had been drawn up, culminating in the availability of the catalogue database for up-loading in the new integrated library system at the end of March 2000.
Business planning and marketing strategies - the non-IT but vital survival part of the project - focus on the new services or the enhancement of existing services resulting from the implementation of the pilot project. A two-day workshop on Marketing and Pricing was held with the RSL Business Planning Team in charge of these future income generating services. The workshop discussed marketing theories and the current situation pertaining to the marketing of library services in Russia, the promotion and pricing of services. Results from user surveys followed by focus group meetings form the basis of the marketing strategy. Marketing activities by other libraries in Russia are taken into account, as are performance indicators by other national libraries in Europe, as recorded in the LIBECON 2000 database, a research project under the FWP4 DGXIII Telematics for Libraries programme.
The network design and installation of the pilot project follows a careful plan of investigating the current situation, documenting the topology of the present network interaction, and of the technical conditions of current computer equipment and the server capacity, before defining the future local and global network topology. These findings, in connection with the information on the hardware requirements of the chosen library software, have provided a sound basis for the technical specification of the server and networking equipment, which have been the subject of a restricted tender. Work has now started to make the current network more manageable, creating a star topology with a high capacity switch in the centre and peripheral segments connected via multi-core optic cable.
Finally, training is a key component of the project, to ensure the functioning and sustainability of the pilot project. The process of defining a training programme for the RSL staff who will operate the pilot project has started with a skills audit, followed by the definition of the training needs and the identification of the content of the training and who will best deliver it. Training in the following areas will be required: systems engineers, network and database administration, data input operators, readers support. An overall training plan focuses on the creation of a cadre of 15 train the trainers, who will provide cascade training for other staff. A highlight of the training process will be two study tours, to the UK (23-30th October 1999) for senior RSL managers to libraries in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, to discuss policy and stragety, and to France (beginning of April 2000) for RSL middle management, to discuss methodology and processes. RSL staff will be meeting and exchanging views with many EU colleagues who have been involved in or are familiar with EC research projects pertaining to libraries.
There may be other opportunities to exploit existing research results as the project matures. Comments by expert readers of the Exploit Interactive web magazine will be most welcome to ensure that full advantage is taken of expertise created by the EC FWPs. An International End-of-Project Conference wil take place on 17-19th April 2000 which will not only present the lessons learnt from this project but will discuss findings of EU research relevant to the modernisation of Russian libraries and their imminent networking with the networked European library space.
Further Information on TACIS can be found at the TACIS web site at <http://www.rsl.ru/tacis/>
EU TACIS Project Office
Russian State Library
Tel: +7 095 202 2570
Fax +7 095 200 2255
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